Royals’ strengths are weaknesses in disheartening 5-3 loss to Tribe

Jason Vargas struggled with his command, but he battled.

Well, this is the type of game the Royals are supposed to win.

They got a quality start from Jason Vargas (six innings, two earned runs), they got long balls from Sal Perez and Mike Moustakas, and they even got a clutch, two-out RBI hit from Moustakas again in the sixth inning.

But generally what the Royals excel at — defense and a strong bullpen — betrayed them in a disheartening 5-3 loss to the Cleveland Indians on Wednesday night.

A disastrous mental and physical error by Royals center fielder Jarrod Dyson gave the Tribe a gift run in the sixth that erased a 3-2 lead. Then Kelvin Herrera and Wade Davis each got nicked for a run in each of their one innings of work.

And, of course, the Royals’ offense hit a wall at three runs — they are 10-0 when scoring four or more runs this year, and now 0-10 when they don’t score four runs. Simple math.

3 UP

— Giving more love to Moose. Moustakas continues to drive the ball, and he smoked a line-drive homer to right into the Royals’ bullpen. Even more impressive was Moose’s hard single down the right-field line in the sixth. The Royals opened the inning with two runners aboard, but Alex Gordon and Perez each failed to come through. Enter Moose, who delivered a huge RBI hit at the time, giving the Royals a 3-2 lead. Right now, Moose is the only Royal hitting in the clutch.

— Nice to see the long ball. Perez smoked a bomb over the center-field fence in the second, and Moose followed with his laser to right. Those were the first back-to-back homers by the Royals since last July 4 when Lorenzo Cain and George Kottaras went back-to-back. Cain’s was a grand slam, you’ll recall, and it won a lucky Overland Park woman $25,000 in the Sonic Slam inning.

— Vargas simply a cool dude. It was clear early on that Vargas didn’t have great command — he needed 58 pitches to get through three innings. But as he always seems to do, he battled. The pitch he made to Michael Bourn on his two-run triple in the second inning actually was a good pitch down and in, and Bourn, who was fooled, just flicked his bat at it — Bourn happened to hit the ball square and it sailed into the right-center alley. And, of course, Vargas should have left with the lead at 3-2 after six innings instead of tied if not for Dyson’s fielding error.


— Why does this keep happening? It happened last year at least once, and it has happened twice now this year — Dyson, playing center field, charges a ball on the ground but takes his eyes off it and it rolls past him. This time, the play of the game happened when Cleveland’s Michael Brantley singled with one out, then with two out attempted to steal second. Perez’s throw was on target, but the ball skipped past second baseman Omar Infante on a wicked hop (tough play for Infante) into center field. Brantley got up and cruised toward third. Dyson alertly charged the ball and may have (erroneously) thought he had a chance for a play at third. He didn’t. Worse yet, Dyson let the ball go right under his glove, allowing Brantley to score the tying run. This was as much a mental error as physical — Dyson simply needed to make sure he kept the ball in front of him to keep the tying run at third. The mental error really hurt because Vargas got the next hitter, Yan Gomes, to ground out to end the inning.

— Billy steps forward, steps back. Just when you thought Billy Butler was snapping out of his slump, he turned in a forgettable night at the plate. He struck out in the first with Eric Hosmer on first, he tapped out to the pitcher in the fourth, he hit a soft grounder to third in the sixth (he reached on a fielder’s choice), and with two on and two out in a 3-3 game in the seventh, he flied out to right. You keep getting the sense Billy is about to get hot but ….

— Hey, who has the better bullpen? Not sure I’m too crazy about how good the Indians’ bullpen seems to be shaping up — that is an area where the Royals have enjoyed dominance in recent years. But on Wednesday, the Tribe’s bullpen was far superior, throwing 2 2/3 scoreless innings and shutting down the Royals with relative ease when it mattered. With two on and one out in the seventh, Marc Rzepczynski, a left-hander, made Eric Hosmer look awful while striking him out. Bryan Shaw then disposed of Butler on a flyout. Shaw gave up a leadoff single to Alex Gordon in the eighth, but he struck out Perez on what looked like a hanging slider. Right-hander Cody Allen then came on and blew away Moose on strikes, and then got Alcides Escobar on a weak popup. The Royals also wasted a leadoff single from Dyson in the ninth against John Axford.

You can follow Jeffrey Flanagan on Twitter at @jflanagankc or email